Is it Possible to Win at Blackjack Consistently Without Using Card Counting Systems?
Aug 22, 2014
Card counting is the gold standard when we’re talking about winning at blackjack. But some blackjack experts claim you can win without counting.
Blackjack is a casino game. That means that the house has an inherent mathematical advantage over the player. Theoretically the more the player plays, the more the casino drains from their pockets. But blackjack stands out from other games like slots, baccarat and roulette because the player can use advantage play techniques to turn the tide in their favor.
One can never make a living from roulette, but one can from playing blackjack. The most obvious way to do this is by using a card counting system. There are numerous systems out there but all of them are designed to make the player aware of when the odds are in their favor so they can place a very large wager.
That being said, some prominent voices doubt the necessity of counting cards to win consistently.
Leon Dubey and the no-counting situational approach
In 1980 blackjack expert Leon Dubey published a book called No Need to Count in which he promotes a strategy for winning at blackjack which is much different from most blackjack books, which are almost exclusively about basic strategy or card counting. His approach is the most commonly-cited non-counting system in use.
Essentially he argues that you can end up with the same result as you would by counting without actually counting. Whereas counting takes a mathematical approach, Dubey’s no-counting system takes a holistic approach to making yourself aware of when the odds are in your favor.
This is also referred to as a “situational system” as the player considers the current situation to decide how to play the upcoming hand. It is quantitatively, not qualitatively different for a standard counting system.
Dubey’s approach relies on three “situational” indicators that the next hand will be (or will not be) in the player’s favor
• If the player has won the previous hand it is an indicator that advantageous cards (face cards) were dealt, so the chances of good cards being dealt again are lessened
• If the player lost the previous hand the vice-versa occurs, as being dealt poor-quality cards means it’s more likely one will be dealt high-quality ones upcoming
• If the last hand was a push the chances of a player loss on the upcoming hand are magnified even more, as the previous hand most likely resulted in both the dealer and player being dealt face cards
These rules are extremely simple but Dubey testified that they had been mathematically tested and approved, a claim which was accepted by blackjack legend Arnold Snyder.
Dubey was not the first to show that the outcome of the next hand can be predicted in part by considering the outcome of the previous hand. There are other positive and negative indicators as well. For example, following a non-ace pair split the player’s expectation should rise; following an ace split it should drop. And expectations should rise after any hand – player or dealer – which involves someone taking four or more cards.
The critique of this system
Dubey and followers are 100 percent correct in asserting that analysis of the previous hand can be useful in predicting the outcome of the upcoming hand, and they have the mathematical studies to prove it.
The question is: so what? The correlation between the last hand and the previous hand is quite small. So small that some analysis has found that correctly betting in accordance with these simple indicators lessens the house edge rather than tips the edge into the advantage of the player.
Another thing: non-counting systems are not pit boss-proof. Some believe that situational techniques are not detectable by casino staff. It’s true that one is less likely to be sniffed out using this system than when counting cards directly, but some blackjack players have been given the back-off for situational playing.
In the words of Snyder, “situational play is valid, but not a very good moneymaking system.” If done properly you’ll win more than you would using basic strategy alone, but not enough to significantly increase the size of bankroll.
A situational system is essentially a watered-down counting system. It’s easier to use but much less lucrative. At the end of the day it isn’t worth the trouble.
Why card counting is the best way to win
Non-counting advantage play strategies like Dubey’s can give the player a higher chance of winning but they are simply not as precise as using a card counting system. They amount to a sort of advantage play “cheating,” the desire to tip the house edge in one’s favor without putting the time in to learn a proper counting system.
Then there are cases where a player like the now-famous Don Johnson had a few big nights in Atlantic City casinos and won $15 million using only basic strategy. He’s an excellent blackjack player, but that style of play isn’t sustainable. There’s a reason he isn’t a professional blackjack player.
The truth is in blackjack there are no shortcuts to prolonged success. Advanced blackjack smart strategies require countless hours of hard work to learn. That’s exactly why aspiring players are looking for non-counting strategies, but there are simply no alternatives to counting.
To answer the question in the title to this article, yes, it is possible to win at blackjack without using a card counting system. But that doesn’t mean that one should attempt to do it.